Sound — 8
While the 550x sports the traditional SWR sound, it also brings a whole range of new sounds to the table. As I mentioned before, the aural enhancer plays a crucial part in the sound of all SWR amps. It brings the modern sounds of crisp highs and punchy bass, while on the other end of the spectrum giving off the classic sounds that so many of my colleagues still value. However even with the aural enhancer defeated, the EQ alone offers a huge range of tonal possibilities. From the deep, rich, boomy bass offered by low frequency adjustment, to the bright clear ringing treble, this amp is equally suited for every genre, from metal to jazz.
Overall Impression — 7
While there seemed to be some rather serious problems in the control parts of the amp, these were compensated for by the overall presentation of the unit. Once again SWR aims to please with their advance tone shaping technology and the all tube preamplifier. Elements of the modern, the classic, and the funky come together to really make this amp bark, at any volume, in any situation.
Reliability & Durability — 6
While this amp holds it's own in many situations, be they studio or Live, metal or jazz, one thing that it lacks is durability. Within one week of owning the amp, the power Switch developed some sort of short, which caused the amp to play at only a fraction of the power that it was capable of outputting. In addition, during the same short span of time, both the gain and master volume knob had considerable crackling occurring while moving. This should not be happening. This amp was treated with the utmost care and respect. Especially considering the short amount of time that it had been in my possession at the time that the problems occurred.
Features — 8
Once again, SWR has created an amplifier that sets itself apart from the pack. Not only in way of excellent tonal engineering, but also through precise and well crafted controls, and a plethora of features that could hold it's own against any amp on the market today. This amp picks up where the classic Workingman's series left off. The controls are almost identical to my SWR Workingman's 2004, with some key features added, and some not so good features taken away. Weighing in at just 26 pounds, this 550 watt amp features the time tested all-tube SWR preamp with their traditional aural enhancer and subwave functions. The aural enhancer is what defines SWR's classic sound. The enhancer brings out key frequencies, while reducing frequencies that create mud. This is heard most significantly for basses, the Aural Enhancer will help bring out the fundamentals of your lower registers without masking them with overtones, as is possible when using the Bass control only. At the same time, it opens up the sibilance characteristics of all instruments without being harsh. But this is just the very beginning. The next in the line of features on this amp is the Sub-Wave feature. Used prominently in studio applications, the sub-wave effect will double the note that you are playing, one octave down. This creates thicker, deeper, punchier sounding bass. However, this effect is best when used in moderation. About the time the effect control gets up around noon, you can begin to separately hear the lower and higher octaves that are being produced. This is not necessarily a good thing, especially because it doesn't always remain totally in tune. For an EQ, we find the traditional SWR setup. Bass, Mid-Level and Frequency and finally a Treble knob. While the bass and treble knobs are well designed, I think that if the mid control section featured a separate control for both the low and high mids that it would be much more effective at dialing in tones. Finally on the front panel you find the classic SWR limiter/compressor. While one control is hardly enough to do the job of a fully functional compressor, the limiter is a very useful and effective function. In addition to being a well rounded amp for Live performance, it also offers many features that make it well versed for studio applications as well. These features are most notably displayed in the balanced XLR output and the quarter inch tuner out. The 550x is a well balanced amplifier, equally suited for Live and studio applications.